7 Ways to Live a Faithful Life

By Brian McLaren 3-04-2015
katarinag / Shutterstock.com
katarinag / Shutterstock.com

“And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” [Micah 6:8]

Too often, perversions of our world’s religious traditions make the daily news for their violence, corruption, greed, and prejudice. Meanwhile, authentic representatives of those traditions are often busy doing good — good that goes largely unnoticed. That’s why I’m glad that a diverse group of religious leaders are sharing about seven ways authentic people of faith can work together to make a better world.

I served as a progressive evangelical pastor for 24 years, and during those years, I saw the evangelical movement struggling with its identity. The best versions of evangelicalism, whether they were labeled conservative or progressive, always took seriously passages like Matthew 25, where Jesus said, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink.” Those verses continue to inspire evangelicals of all persuasions to engage in life-giving mission — and in particular, to engage constructively in the world in seven positive, reconciling, and healing ways.

If you invest just a few minutes over the next seven days thinking and speaking up about these seven ways to participate in our world, I believe by week’s end you will be moved to action and in it find a richer, more faithful life:

1. Spread optimism, not gloom.

Yes, there is great suffering in our world, but behind the headlines is a hopeful story that needs to be told. We are witnessing the healthiest generation of children the world has ever known. This year, 6.4 million fewer children under age five will die from illness and disease than in 1990, according to UNICEF. Declining infant mortality in turn reduces birth rates. Disparities between rich and poor are closing faster than ever before and diseases are being eradicated: smallpox is gone, and polio and Guinea worm are on the verge of eradication. Today, more families have safe water to drink, more girls are attending school, vaccines are preventing millions of deaths and deformities, and farmers are growing better harvests.

Of course, we all know much remains to be done, but clearly our work is moving in the right direction, and progressive evangelicals are a key part of this success.

2. Understand our global commitment.

Faith communities play a crucial role alongside civic groups, corporations, philanthropy, governments, international organizations, and local communities. Faith-based development organizations like African Road and Red del Camino are trusted by local communities and often on the front lines of the global battle to bring vulnerable individuals into strong, self-reliant communities with hope and a future.

You can become a part of this investment. Whether you contribute financially or in person, you are a part of furthering our good work and success. Consider joining a mission trip, or as I prefer to call them, a field trip — there is no better way to understand what others face than to see, serve, listen learn, and love.

3. Understand how the U.S. government fits into our work.

Successes would be few without our government’s funding and influence. U.S. leadership does what individuals and NGOs can’t: it launches global initiatives to eradicate diseases, underwrites innovations in global health, coordinates international strategies, and provides critical levels of funding directed to the poorest of the poor.

Around 55 percent of U.S. foreign aid goes, not to overseas governments, but to American non-profit organizations and private contractors working around the globe. Many well-established faith-based organizations implement these foreign aid dollars. It’s important to understand that supporting U.S. government funding for foreign aid also supports our international efforts that save and improve lives.

4. Challenge the myths that hold back greater success.

U.S. foreign aid is one of America’s great untold success stories, but success gets hidden under a blanket of myths – from “it’s a playground for corruption” to “we send missiles to dictators” to “the U.S. spends a bloated 25 percent of our federal budget on foreign aid.”

None of that is true and we need to fight back with the facts: U.S. foreign aid is less than one percent of the entire federal budget. It works to alleviate poverty, disease, and hunger for the long term; creates self-sufficiency; and provides humanitarian aid during crises. U.S foreign aid is vaccinations, safe water, the dignity of sanitation, schools, nutrition, farming education; it lifts up women and therefore whole families and villages; and so much more.

Spirit-inspired goodwill expresses itself in many ways — both faith-based and governmental — and it’s time for us to stop pitting one against the other but rather to collaborate for the common good.

5. Respond to the neediest, not just the nearest.

Since we believe that “to whom much is given, much will be required” (Luke 12:48.), we who have been given much can’t limit our circle of concern to our physical neighbors or fellow citizens. We must remember that caring for the “least of these” does not mean the nearest or those most like us; rather, it’s the neediest even at a distance to whom we are called. In today’s highly connected world, the question “Who is my neighbor” is not limited by a postal code or passport. Jesus call to care is defined, not by nationality, but by need: “And he answered them, ‘Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.’” (Luke 3:11)

6. Strengthen American wellbeing.

U.S. investment in global health is also an investment in American health. Pandemics as rapid and devastating as the Ebola outbreak, although rare, serve as an important reminder of the critical security and humanitarian work the U.S. does — not with drones and air bases — but with medical tents and syringes. Pathogens do not recognize political boundaries and fear doesn’t save lives. It is impossible to close off a border to a disease. If we want to prevent Ebola, polio, cholera, tuberculosis, deadly flus, measles, malaria, and more from crossing U.S. borders, the way to do that in today’s global economy is to stop them where they begin.

That’s why diplomacy and development have been essential to our bipartisan-supported national security foreign policy since World War II. Caring about the poor and needy, Scripture says, is not an elective or side dish; it’s essential to wellbeing, and it’s at the heart of what it means to know God: “He [King Josiah] defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?” declares the LORD. [Jeremiah 22:16]

7. Share you moral voice with Congress.

Congress has no shortage of special interest groups lobbying them on behalf of the richest of the rich. The poorest of the poor can’t afford expensive lobbyists. That’s why, especially at budget time, you and I need to speak on their behalf. Members of Congress who support U.S. foreign aid often do so as quietly as possible because too often they come under political fire by opponents who exploit ignorance about U.S. foreign aid. Reach out to your representatives and senators and let them know your thoughts about the value of global health and development programs. If you’ve been on a mission, share your personal story, both about the needs and the successful results of our good work.

We have made real progress in recent decades, but our voices must not be silent because our work is not done. Seventeen thousand children around the world continue to die every day mostly from preventable causes. That is a daily pandemic. As the epistle of James notes, “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?” [James 2:15-18]

Let us be the powerful voice, for all God’s children.

“Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.“

Brian McLaren is an author, speaker, activist, blogger, and networker. He began his career as a college English teacher and then spent more than 20 years as a pastor. He has written more than a dozen books, including Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road and We Make the Road by Walking. He is an initiator with the Convergence Network.

Image:  / Shutterstock.com

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